US & Canada

Mounties reach multi-million sexual harassment settlement

A member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) trains in Hyde Park Barracks on horses provided by the Household Cavalry on May 22, 2012 in London, England Image copyright Getty Images

The Canadian Mounties have reached a multi-million dollar settlement agreement with female members and civilian staff of the national police force after decades of workplace gender and sexual discrimination, bullying and harassment.

The settlement agreement, expected to reach CA$100m ($76m/£59m) in compensation, still needs federal court approval.

On Thursday, Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) Commissioner Bob Paulson apologised to the women affected by what he called "shameful conduct" and the force's failure in allowing a culture of harassment to fester within the RCMP.

"Some of these women left the RCMP, heartbroken, disillusioned and angry. Others stayed and were forced to find ways to cope with this inexcusable condition since they did not see an organisation that was willing to change," a tearful Mr Paulson said.

The two class-action lawsuits that led to the settlement agreement were filed by former Mounties Janet Merlo, who joined the RCMP in 1991, and Linda Gillis Davidson, who joined in 1985.

Image copyright AP
Image caption The head of the RCMP, Bob Paulson, briefs former Prime Minister Stephen Harper in 2014

Ms Merlo, who says she lived with 20 years of sexual comments. pranks and derogatory remarks inflicted by "a minority, but a potent minority" of male colleagues, called Thursday's apology and settlement a "turning point for the RCMP".

"I have total faith that this is the beginning of a new era, hopefully a better era," she said.

All told, the dual class-actions represent some 500 plaintiffs. Federal officials are expecting up to 1,000 women who worked in the RCMP between 1974 and when the settlement receives court approval to seek claims under the agreement.

Allegations of sexual harassment and a toxic work environment have been dogging the RCMP for years after a high-profile Mountie first went public with her claims in 2011.

Image copyright AP

Corporal Catherine Galliford, a former RCMP spokeswoman, said years of sexual harassment left her with post-traumatic stress disorder and agoraphobia.

The national force has since worked to change the culture, making it easier to report bullying and harassment. They committed on Thursday to initiatives that "support a respectful and inclusive workplace".

The RCMP provides both federal law enforcement across Canada and provincial and municipal policing in eight provinces and three territories. They also police some 600 aboriginal communities.

Women have been able to become full-fledged police officers within the RCMP for over 40 years and now make up about 20% of the force's 28,000 employees.

Mounties who seek claims will be allowed to remain anonymous. The independent claim process and compensation scheme will be overseen by former Supreme Court of Canada judge Michel Bastarache.

But should female Mounties choose to come forward to RCMP leadership with valid harassment claims, Mr Paulson said, "you can rest assured that the fist of God will descend on the [perpetrators]".

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